Celebrate Love: Meet Joyce

When I was born, my mother gave me to my grandfather - because he was my biological father. The idea of raising me was too painful for her.

I didn't know this until I was seven years old. I lived with my grandparents, and, as I got older, my grandmother didn't want to keep me either. She was afraid my grandfather would start abusing me. My grandfather also didn't want me around. I felt alone. I became very rebellious and didn't obey anyone. I left home and went to a short-term holding house. The authorities knew it was dangerous for me there, so they called Hope Unlimited right away to come take care of me. I was just 11 years old.

When I first arrived at the City of Youth, it was not easy. I didn't know what it meant to love or to be loved. The staff nurtured me and taught me about God's love, though. Over my first few months at Hope Unlimited, I felt valued. My behavior changed, as I eventually understood the power of God's love for me.

I remember receiving Valentine's Day cards at our summer Day of Love party from people in the United States. The first time I opened one of these cards, I was overwhelmed. Someone who didn't even know me, but who wanted to encourage me and pray for me, sent it with love.

My friends and I were so excited to receive the cards. They made me feel like I was part of something bigger than myself. There were people rooting for me and loving me from afar. I would put the cards in my locker and remember when times were hard that friends in the United States were praying for me and thinking of me.

I was at the City of Youth for seven years. There were highs and lows, but the staff here became my family. They taught me how to behave, how to slowly open my heart, how to love, and how to have healthy relationships. I would not be where I am today without Hope Unlimited.

Today I am a happy wife and mother to two sons, Giovanni (6) and Lucas (3 months). My husband and I live and work here at the City of Youth. By God's grace, I am an example to the kids that transformation is possible. With God's help, no matter what your past is like, you can learn to love and write your own family story. And it's not just me. Our church is full of examples of others who have graduated from the City of Youth and had similar experiences of healing and transformation!

I would like to thank all the people who helped me grow - both here in Brazil and in the United States. So many individuals who I will never meet have encouraged me through Valentine's cards, donated with their hearts open, and taught me that I could love and was loved. May God bless all of you and thank you for everything.

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